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Thursday, 27 May 1993
Page: 1454

Senator COLLINS (Minister for Transport and Communications) (12.29 p.m.) —I will certainly provide Senator Alston with that advice. Dr Swanton is a senior officer of the department so there will not be any additional remuneration for him. Professor Pearce, as I understand it, will be paid for the work that he has done at the standard rate for this kind of work. I have not had any information about that. I will take that question on notice and provide Senator Alston with a reply as soon as I can.

Senator Alston —Has the department made any attempt to calculate the full cost of the series of problems relating to both tender processes? I include in that the opportunity cost of the time that officers have been required to spend on these matters when they might have been attending to other duties.

Senator COLLINS —I think that at this stage the answer is no, although that is a relevant question and can be addressed at some time in the future. I will try to get as good a guesstimate as possible of what that might be. There would also be the legal costs associated with the matter. I might say, though, that I was particularly interested to read the research paper produced by Sydney University. As regrettable as this entire matter has been—and it is extremely regrettable—and as important and necessary as it is to carry out the recommendations that have been made by Professor Pearce and, indeed, the action that has already been flagged by the secretary to the department, the problems fortunately are capable of resolution.

  One may compare these matters with previous incidents canvassed in terms of departmental problems. The two spectacular ones were the Asia Dairy affair and the meat substitution scandal, which almost destroyed a billion-dollar-a-year export industry for Australia. The fortunate thing about these recent problems is that, in the first instance—that is, the satellite—they have been substantially corrected by legislation which passed through this Parliament and became law about two weeks ago, and, in the case of the MDS matters, they are properly before the Federal Court.

  I conclude on that point by saying that there have been some assumptions made about the resolution of the MDS tender problems, in respect of government taking decisions on this. That is not what is happening at all. I advise honourable senators, as I have done previously, that the very first action that the Commonwealth took, that Cabinet decision having been made, was to place the matter immediately before the Federal Court, which is in every sense in charge of the matter. As I understand it, the situation now is that the court has determined that the tender process should remain open until 28 May but at that point be frozen while the legal arguments are being canvassed.

  I might also tell Senator Alston that I have done what I previously told the Senate I would do; that is, I have asked the lawyers who are acting for the Commonwealth to explore with the legal representatives of Mr Stokes, in the normal way, whether the matter can be properly brought to a resolution which will safeguard the interests of the Government and the tenderers who are involved in the process.